Prime Minister Hun Sen advised three relevant ministers to discuss increasing the number of doctors in preparation for the fight against Covid-19 next year.

He also requested that volunteer doctors and contractual doctors who are currently fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in Cambodia be fully integrated into the existing state framework.

His remarks came on December 15 in an address to the nation wherein he updated the public on the Covid-19 situation in Cambodia and also announced a Covid-19 vaccine purchase to be completed in 2021.

He advised Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth, Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng and Minister of Civil Service Prum Sokha to further discuss how best to organise Cambodia’s doctors for the fight against Covid-19.

“One possibility is to adjust the size of the civil servant workforce recruitment. I am willing to reduce the number of recruits at other institutions in order to increase the number of doctor recruits. But His Excellency Mam Bun Heng should first check into training existing doctors in this area and then recruit additional doctors we need in order to fight against Covid-19,” he said.

Hun Sen said the three ministers also had to discuss how many medical workers might be needed for Covid-19-related duties. He stated clearly that those who are to be given government salaries and receive training have to then carry out work to fight Covid-19, even if their prior background was in a different [non-medical] profession and they had previously developed different job skills.

“It doesn’t hurt Cambodia to have more doctors. But do not bring in doctors just to get them on the payroll and then let them get out of doing the work. No, we don’t want them. The conditions of hiring them are they must serve in the fight against Covid-19, and only those who do so will be welcome to join,” he said.

In a more than three-hour speech, the prime minister laid out plans for the next year in the fight againt Covid-19. He paid special compliment to the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC) for their work on Cambodia’s Covid-19 testing programme, particularly in the wake of the so-called November 28 incident that saw the arrival of community transmission of the disease. The IPC has tested samples from every person involved in the incident.

He also praised the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organisation and other partner organisations for their contributions to Cambodia’s Covid-19 response.

Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine could not be reached for comment on December 16 on how many volunteer doctors are involved in Covid-19-related work.

There have been some past indications that the number of volunteers involved is quite large. For example, in late March, Hun Sen met with 422 medical staff and students who had already volunteered to take part in the mission to stop Covid-19.

A senior Ministry of Civil Service official, who asked not to be named, said the health ministry would normally be the deciding authority regarding how many volunteer doctors need to be recruited, with the civil service ministry preparing terms and references for them.

The official said volunteer doctors who had joined the fight against Covid-19 are currently receiving some payments according to their individual contracts, along with some additional incentive money.

Transparency International Cambodia executive director Pech Pisey supported the volunteer programme. He said it will help train young specialists and provided experience for them that would be of value to their careers and to their patients when they eventually settled into permanent positions in future.

However, he wants the recruiting process to be transparent and would prefer that the doctors involved remain as volunteers. He said the decisions regarding the inclusion of these doctors in the state employment system should be made according to practical need.

“It is more important to strengthen the effectiveness of the present labour force that each ministry already has. The collection and proper allocation of resources is the key to ensuring that there is sufficient staffing in government offices to provide public services, especially in remote areas,” he said.